No, this isn’t a blog about finding the perfect company to work for, or the best interview questions, or attaching yourself to a powerful mentor. Nor is it about outdistancing your Gen X and Baby Boomer bosses and colleagues threatened and intimidated by your more highly evolved technology skills. And it definitely isn’t about launching a start up or disrupting a calcified business model.
This is advice about exploiting what we’ve all had and we all lose: youth.
Acting your age doesn’t mean recreating the frat house atmosphere of college, and it definitely doesn’t mean a flippant attitude towards work, showing up late, leaving early and expecting your boss to flex around your vacation schedule.
Acting your age isn’t a reprimand to behave, to fall in line, to respect your elders and not be your authentic self.
Acting your age means that you aren’t supposed to know all the answers – you’re expected to be curious. You’re expected to be still learning. You’re expected to know what you don’t know and go figure it out.
For you work should be a combination of grad school (applying some fraction of what you’ve learnt during those endless school years) and kindergarten (accept that you know nothing about being successful in a corporation).
Acting your age means turning your youth into a competitive advantage. Here are 4 ways to do it:
- Hunt ideas. Ask great questions, ones focused on learning not showing off. Assume the people you work with and for know a hell of a lot more than you do. Now go find out what it is.
- Have multiple mentors. Let them guide, counsel, advise and grow you. Who is five years older than you and has the job you want? Ten years ahead of you and still a rising star? Twenty? Befriend them all, Be open to what they’ve finished and you’ve barely begun.
- Lack of knowledge is a strength not a weakness. Creating a perception that you know everything will only get people to dismiss you as cocky. Subject matter expertise takes you only so far. If you don’t develop influencing and relationship building skills, you will plateau far sooner than your potential would suggest. And why limit all that promise now?
- Dress like a rich hipster. Use the physical advantage that the young and beautiful have. Looking this gorgeously fresh is something you can only pull off for a little while, so why not use it? Don’t be overly casual, and don’t dress like a middle aged leader – look like the future has arrived right now.
The maxim of act as if you have the job you want next, not the job you have is bad advice for you. There’s a lot of runway ahead – so if you want to achieve a high altitude, you’ve got to nail the takeoff.